I’m back after a rather long hiatus. I spent the summer on involuntary vacation: I was laid off from my job at Crane. During my layoff I didn’t feel much like writing, though I did step up my exercise regimen and lost some weight. After I got a new position at Crane in September, I remained unmotivated. Yesterday, I came across an article in Jane’s – subscription through Crane – dealing with a subject I’ve previously discussed at length on this blog: whether or not Israel is capable of successfully launching a denuclearization attack on Iran. Quoting Jane’s: “While Israel’s rhetoric on this possibility is vigorous, the feasibility of such an operation is extremely low.”
Following are the main points in the Jane’s analysis:
- Natanz is roughly 1550 km from the nearest Israeli base.
- The 25 F-15I aircraft have an operational range of around 2000 km without drop tanks.
- The 102 F16I aircraft delivered and on order have a comparable range when fitted with conformal fuel tanks.
- The IAF has only 4 KC-707 and 3 KC-130 tankers available, which limits the ability of Israeli jets to loiter over the target(s).
- All routes to the target lead to countries not likely to allow over flights. Most probable would be along Iraqi-Saudi border, which increases the range by around 300 kilometers.
- For the above and other reasons, any attack is likely a “one-off” single wave of strike aircraft.
- Iranian air defense capability is limited but would still create operational challenges given the limited size of the Israeli strike and possible diversion of strike aircraft to defense.
- Somewhere from 50 to 100 penetrators could be put on target at Natanz, lack of intel about the buried facility may limit the damage.
- Since the Israeli strike would fly through airspace controlled and/or monitored by the U.S., Israeli-U.S. collusion would be assumed, generating all manner of adverse political “blowback”.
There is really nothing in the Jane’s analysis that I haven’t already discussed before. I am rather more sanguine about the direct route attack on Natanz (and Arak, which Jane’s didn’t mention) being successful than is Jane’s. Otherwise, I generally concur with the analysis, with a few minor quibbles. I’ll accept Jane’s tanker number. However, one possibility I’ve considered but not heretofore written about is that Israeli might use some number of its F-16A/B/C/D aircraft as tankers by fitting them with buddy packs. This could significantly ease the operational constraints and allow the Israelis to put more bombs on target.
I doubt that Israeli intel is problematic, as the Jane’s analysis suggests. Israeli intel is generally superb and, if a History Channel documentary aired a few days ago titled “Beyond Top Secret: Iran” is accurate, the Mossad actually tipped off the Iranian dissidents about where to look for the main Iranian nuclear facilities back in 2002. The History Channel documentary also discussed how Israel could achieve better results with its bunker busters: by double targeting. Because the bunker busters are so accurate, the first one blows a hole above the buried structure and the second goes into that hole and penetrates the structure before exploding. I didn’t discuss this possibility previously either, although I did discuss it with friends offline.
Everyone knows that only the U.S. can do a thorough job against Iran - the U.S. can not only take out the entire nuclear infrastructure but attrition the military and political infrastructure as well. What I’ve previously termed “active deterrence” requires that Iran’s military capabilities be severely degraded and Bush will have to act very soon. It will be too late to do anything if it’s left to the next President whomever he or she happens to be.